The brutal Lamborghini Aventador has stepped up a notch to the subtly changed Aventador S. Under the skin though is more power, more tech and more agility. James hits the Phillip Island Circuit in the big V12 to see if the S makes all the difference.
It was once said that a Lamborghini is not so much a driving car, but an arriving car.
Fantastic angles, exquisite names and an aura of raw, brutal power, even when standing still, gave the Sant’Agata bulls more celebrity for simply existing, than any numerical output or claim could counter.
But times change, and while the transition from arriving to driving credibility has been in the works for some time now, the 2017 Lamborghini Aventador S might just be the bookend the statement has needed to go full circle.
Launched initially in 2011, the stealth-bomber-like Aventador envisaged what a real life Batman would choose as his daily drive. So much so, that Bruce Wayne opted for a Grigio Antares one in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.
Packing a naturally aspirated 6.5-litre V12 with a stonking 515kW (or 700hp) turning all four wheels, the LP700-4 tore up the 0-100kmh dash in 2.9 seconds, to a maximum top speed of 354km/h.
The monstrous wedge looked, for a time, to be the last of the old guard of supercars. All that power and performance without any modern turbocharged or electrified stimulation, leading many of us to wonder what amazing beast might come next.
And now, six years on, despite looking to many like a late-life facelift, the Aventador S is 'what comes next'.
The subtle aerodynamic changes to the front splitter and rear diffuser, combined with the three-position active rear spoiler, give the Aventador S 130 per cent more downforce than the older car.
With fitting theatrics, Lamborghini suggests the angled splitters in the front fascia are there to resemble the fangs from a venomous snake, as well as to channel air to cool the brakes and along the side of the car into the rear radiators.
It’s an evolved design, which does nothing to lessen the impact the car has on you.
Throw in more power, the 6.5-litre V12 now produces 544kW (740hp), four-wheel steering, and an enhanced vehicle dynamics intelligence system called LDVA (more on that shortly) and the Aventador S has all the hallmarks of a new model, showing there is still plenty of life in the ‘one-vent, one-door’ carbon monocoque yet.
However, even with all this, it’s officially not the fastest thing to come out of the gates of the expanding Sant’Agata factory. That honour goes to the smaller, track focussed, Huracan Performante, but here, at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit (in the rain), that doesn't really matter.
The Aventador S, like the Murcielago, Diablo and Countach before it, is and will forever be, a proper Lamborghini, largely because of its iconic scissor doors.
Even my eight-year old daughter, when querying what I would be up to for the day, asked the question when she heard the name, Lamborghini.
“Do the doors go up?”
Yes. Yes, they do.
The driving vs arriving battle may be switching ends, but there is still plenty of favour on both sides.
In terms of footprint, the $789,425 (before options and on-road costs) Aventador S, has grown 17mm in length (to 4797mm), width and height remain the same (2030mm and 1136mm respectively), but most impressively, when considering the enhanced abilities, the weight is up only 7kg. For context, my backpack weighs more than that.
Sure, that sticker price has grown some $27,925 over the non-S, but it is less than a 4 per cent increase, and quite frankly, for most buyers, is just a small part of the consideration equation.
Think of it like this. Of the four cars shown to us at Philip Island (which are left-hand drive models for the purpose of the Lamborghini Experienza drive event), two are ‘standard’ colours (Rosso Mars – red, and Giallo Spica – yellow), the others carry paint premiums of approximately $8,500 for the Blu Nilla (blue) and Bianco Balloon (white) hues.
Add in the exterior carbon fibre details ($10,600), parking camera and sensors ($9,600), a bunch of interior personalisation tweaks, and perhaps a bit more carbon, not to mention the new centre-lock wheels, and your options can climb well north of $100,000 rather quickly.
The Aventador S is a million dollar car by looks and performance, so a price in that neighbourhood shouldn’t be unexpected. And hey, every single one built is already sold, so it can't be too much of an issue.
So, for now, let us assume you have the means. Is the new A-Dor everything it needs to be?
Open the hydraulically assisted scissor door, to reveal the illuminated Aventador kickplate, and step in and down into the cabin.
Worth noting that while the debate may have formed around driving or arriving, no one mentions departing, which, unless you have regular yoga and pilates instruction, is not a very elegant process.
You sort of need to step, and fall, and stretch and wiggle in a single fluid movement.
It’s even more difficult for those of us over six-feet in height and downright challenging when you throw a race helmet into the mix.
Bottom line, tall readers, with a lid on, you’ll fit but you won't like it. I’d suggest something else for the track days and keeping the big Lambo for helmet-free outings.
Once in, and door lowered, the cabin is quiet and quite snug. There’s a small storage pocket in the door and a tiny cubby between the two seats, plus a glovebox, but it feels more enveloping than cramped.
Of the three cars we drove, two had the standard leather and Alcantara interior, which is tremendously comfortable, albeit a little bleak, but one featured lovely quilted baseball-mitt like brown, weathered leather as part of the Ad Personam customisation process.
This enables you to make your Aventador S as ‘yours’ as you like (for a cost), be it for added comfort, sportiness, on in terms of the test car, even more Italian style.
Vision out the front is great but forget about looking backwards. Having a helmet on didn’t help in any way, but the glass vanes covering the engine behind you tend to distort what rear vision you have.
Best to drive defensively and put some space between you and any other traffic then.
Flip up the missile switch cover, tap both paddles together to disengage any gear, and push the start button to kick the big V12 into action.
There’s a fast starter turn, followed by a sharp, metallic 'yalp'. Game on.
With nothing but a Huracan pace car in front, we give a quick tap up on the right paddle to engage first and head out.
Aural thrills are always a high point of a Lamborghini, and for the Aventador S, the soundtrack has been revised with a new exhaust system and a trio of exit points, fashioned after the trapezoidal engine arrangement on the space shuttle.
Squeezing the car up to a very relaxed 5000rpm results in a growing wail, increasing in pitch and volume as the ‘needle’ on the LCD instrument display rises.
Back off and there's the requisite aggressive gargling that only gets more violent as the car gets hotter.
The track is wet and you can see where the pace car kicks up a spray of standing water. We’re taking things carefully, to get a feel for the circuit and the cars, but still seeing speeds in excess of 150km/h. As you do.
Constantly monitoring your progress is the new LDVA (Lamborghini Dinamica Veicolo Attiva) active vehicle dynamics system.
The software assesses longitudinal loads and adjusts traction control and four-wheel drive torque split, lateral loads through the four-wheel steering and rack ratio, through to vertical loads by utilising the multi-position rear wing and magnetorheological (adaptive) suspension dampening.
It’s a lot to take in, but all results in the Aventador S being a smarter, more forgiving and a much more drivable car than its predecessor. All without removing any of the exhilaration that is expected from the brand.
It seems fair then, that of this adaptive ability has given rise to the new EGO drive mode. Ignore the ironic name, as this is simply an individual setting, like that found in Mercedes-AMG cars.
It allows you the 24-extra combinations of settings found by allowing each of the three principle modes, Strada (street), Sport and Corsa (race) across power, steering and suspension inputs.
The Aventador S is a personal car, so it seems fitting to think you can set it up in a personal way.
The all-digital instrument display changes according to your drive mode, Strada and Sport featuring a large tachometer as a hero element, with gear setting in the centre, and a digital speedometer almost as an afterthought off to the side.
Step up to Corsa, and the vehicle dynamics takes a larger role, with a wider tachometer along the top, sheltering a representation of the car which illustrates torque split, steering angle and g-force loads. Again, speed is almost an inconsequential by-product of all these functions.
The console itself is more fighter jet than car and suitably laid out for the Aventador’s style. The old Audi MMI infotainment software is initially a standout, looking very dated within the neo-futuristic cockpit, but you forget about it in almost the same thought synapse.
We’re pretty sure most Aventador owners have a second, or third, or tenth car should they wish to explore the merits of an intuitive navigation system. In Lamborghini terms, the human-machine-interface refers you your hands on the wheel and feet on the pedals.
And as that interface, I'm picking up speed quite rapidly.
The car feels wide on the circuit, I snuggle a little lower into the seat to gain every millimetre of headroom I can and change up to third.
Exiting the southern loop at turn two, the Huracan picks up speed and I wind on even more power to keep pace. Even at 60 per cent throttle, the wail from the exhaust never stops, nail the pedal and even mid rev range, the big Lambo simply explodes. Professional driver or not, the gap to the Huracan isn't there for long.
I regularly find myself in left-hand drive cars, but even then, positioning the 2-meter wide Lamborghini in the right place at the right time takes some time to feel natural. It’s a bit of a learn-on-the-hop process, though, for as soon as we line up to exit turn 12 and complete a lap, it’s on.
The Huracan pulls away, waves of heat visibly lifting from its rear deck lid. I exit the corner and bury the throttle to give chase.
The V12 sounds orchestrally epic as the tacho passes 6000. 7000. 8000rpm. Change. Thump. WaaaaaaahhhhhHHHH.
Power delivery matches the ‘regular’ Aventador until about 5000rpm, where the S keeps climbing to its revised peak at a wailing 8400rpm. Torque, while unchanged to a maximum of 5500rpm doesn’t taper off as quickly, giving the 'S a taller ability for winding on speed higher in the rev range.
You need a lot of road for this, though, as powering along Philip Island’s almost one-kilometer front straight, we tipped over 240km/h after barely changing into fifth gear. Give the Lamborghini four or five kilometres to stretch its legs, and that 360-odd km/h top speed doesn’t seem unachievable.
The Huracan shows little vortexes of spray from its rear wheels as the brake light flash to wash off some speed through the sweeping right-hander at the end of the straight.
Off the gas, line the car up and brake harder into the left-hand bend at the Southern Loop, the Aventador's downshifts accompanied by sharp explosions from the exhaust. Then its back on the throttle and around the long left into Honda Corner.
In any gear, the car accelerates as if from a standstill. It is, without question, brutally quick.
At the other end of the scale, the standard carbon-ceramic brakes (400mm front, 380mm rear) wash off speed with extreme efficiency.
There’s good temperature in the exhaust now, and the song is like a muted jazz trumpet blasting through your head.
Exiting Honda at turn four, second gear, squeezing power on, with a decent amount of right lock, and you can feel the back of the car wiggle and almost come around faster than expected.
On the first lap, I assumed this was the greasy track exciting a bit of oversteer from the massive 355mm wide rear tyres, but it is actually the four-wheel steering system helping the car make a tighter turn without any amplified understeer push from the front.
Like most modern four-wheel steering programs, the rear wheels will counter-steer at lower speeds to help manoeuvrability, and then move the same direction as the front to help with higher speed stability.
To demonstrate this, we drove an Aventador S through a low-speed motorkhana type course to simulate agility in a carpark or other urban environment. It makes a huge difference to the ease of living with a car like the Aventador, which while not exactly practical, is not as daunting to just move about.
It makes this a much more accessible car, where concern about driving difficulty is removed, to let you just get out and enjoy the big wedge.
Back on the track, and again picking up speed toward the hay shed at Lukey Heights, I shift early to fifth and find the change isn’t as sharp or fast as it is when higher in the rev range.
The seven-speed ISR (independent shifting rod) transmission, uses a single clutch and four shifting rods to change gears and limit torque loss in the lowest possible time. It’s compact and more lightweight than a dual-clutch-system, and while it is fast, it isn’t Porsche PDK fast.
This means that low-speed driving can be quite jerky, and even higher speeds in the more pedestrian drive modes, the shift can feel longer than what is delivered by a multi-clutch system like in the Ferrari F12.
There is a solution, though.
Use the EGO mode to configure CORSA performance, SPORT steering and STRADA ride, to offer the fastest possible shift changes (more brutality means more direct control), and there’s no looking back.
Sure that means the throttle is particularly twitchy, but if having trouble driving your Aventador slowly is the crux of your first-world problems, then perhaps you’ve chosen the wrong car.
We complete another lap, a dry line in the circuit now appearing, but all too soon head back to the pits for a driver change.
I lift the door and proceed to half climb, half fall out of the car. My vote on team driving vs team arriving firmly in the former camp.
The Aventador platform might be six-years-old, an eternity in car-years, but the dynamic updates to the ‘S have given it a very relevant and very fresh outlook on life, that should extend the model line for years to come.
Through a wider market lens, the Aventador S is expensive, is hard to see out of, has ageing infotainment and isn’t a remotely sensible decision given you could have a faster, infinitely more practical Porsche 911 Turbo S for much less money.
But all those arguments against the Lambo, are precisely the arguments for the Lambo.
This is a car which isn’t trying to be cheap or sensible. It doesn’t compromise on entry and egress or rear quarter vision and doesn’t care about infotainment.
If an eight-year-old can peg it as a proper Lamborghini from the doors alone, then it has achieved what it needs to. The fact it's now smarter, faster, more agile and still as brutal is just par for the course.
And while a perfectly smooth race track isn’t exactly the real-world driving environment to enable a full and broad assessment of the car, in the hands of a not-particularly-athletic 42-year-old, it felt strong, fast, confident and most importantly fun, all while urging you, like a devil on your shoulder, to push even further, regardless of the weather.
The 2017 Lamborghini Aventador S is an emotional machine, that very few of us will ever have the chance to fully experience. But from the outside looking in, it is, in all core areas, worthy of its poster-on-the-wall status, and now more than ever has the ability to match.
Driving above arriving. Just the way it should be.
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